Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Barest Count, by Three of Hundreds of Companies, Has 1,500 Missing

The New York Times By ROBERT D. McFADDEN Published September 13, 2001

Rescuers combed mountains of rubble at what had been the World Trade Center today in a grim search for survivors among the thousands presumed dead in its collapse. Investigators meantime cast a worldwide net for those behind the hijackers who slammed jetliners into the twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia in the worst terrorist attack in American history.

The first clues to the identity of those responsible pointed toward five suspects whose movements appear to have taken them to Boston, Canada and Florida, and suggested that the hijackers had Middle Eastern and Islamic connections.

John Ashcroft, the attorney general, said investigators believed that each of the commandeered planes had been hijacked by groups of three to six men armed with box cutters and plastic knives that would have been difficult for airport security officials to detect. There were no arrests in the case, however, and officials said the inquiry might take weeks or months.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said yesterday that 82 bodies had been recovered from the smoking wreckage of the World Trade Center, a fraction of the thousands he said were presumed dead. At around 2 a.m. today, reports came over police radios that another body -- that of a police officer -- had been found near the intersection of Liberty and West streets.

Businesses and government agencies struggled to count their losses. Fire officials said 350 firefighters were missing or dead. Dozens of police officers and other emergency workers were still unaccounted for. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it lost as many as 200 employees. Three of the hundreds of companies that had offices in the towers said they alone could not account for about 1,500 of their workers. Two hundred sixty-six people died on the four hijacked jets, and officials estimated that about 200 had died at the Pentagon.

There was no continuation of the terrorist assaults yesterday, as many had feared, but there were further collapses in the rubble. A nation that had been aghast and mostly shut down on Tuesday tried to move back toward a semblance of normal life. Across the country, businesses, shopping malls, government offices and skyscrapers reopened. But except for a limited number of flights, commercial aviation remained at a standstill.

Federal aviation officials, who had hoped to reopen the skyways, said that most planes would stay grounded until new security measures could be put in place at the nation's airports. Only those flights that had been diverted on Tuesday -- about 2,000 planes in the air at the time of the attacks -- were allowed to continue to their destinations yesterday.

But a vast majority of America's 35,000 to 40,000 daily flights remained on tarmacs, and there were reports that a growing number of travelers feared flying and were canceling reservations and taking ground transportation.

The Federal Aviation Administration's new security measures at airports called for prohibiting knives of any size on board planes; ending curbside check-ins; and eliminating cargo and mail from passenger jets. They also ordered greater scrutiny of planes between flights and of unattended vehicles near terminals.

The nation's stock markets were not expected to reopen before tomorrow or perhaps Monday. The New York Stock Exchange, its shutdown already the longest since World War II, said it wanted to do nothing to interrupt the search and recovery operations a few blocks away.

With jittery financial markets around the world sagging in the wake of the attack, central banks moved to restore calm and ease fears yesterday that the terrorist attack would lead to a global economic crisis or tip the fragile American economy into recession. The Federal Reserve Board injected $38.25 billion into the financial system by buying government bonds from investment houses. Typically it buys only a few billion dollars in bonds in a day.

The scenes of attack -- the Pentagon, with one of its five sides in ruins, and the trade center, whose twin towers and two other buildings had fallen -- continued to smolder as firefighters and rescue teams hoping for miracles probed the debris in round-the-clock operations.

New York City was far from normal, with financial markets, airports, schools and Broadway theaters closed.

Hospitals and morgues braced for casualties in horrendous numbers. The United Nations was evacuated by a bomb threat. While commuter lines, subways and buses resumed near-normal schedules and schools are to reopen today, Manhattan below 14th Street was a no man's land, with transportation and most businesses down. The toppled trade center resembled a nuclear winter war zone.

The danger and drama of the search for victims was captured in the rescue of one woman shortly after noon yesterday from a pocket of rubble that had been a pedestrian walkway over the West Side Highway. Fire trucks lay buried in the rubble as well, said Joe Lashendock, an ironworker and rescue team member.

"Firefighters came across a lady and a fireman," he said. "The lady was alive. Firefighters went down in the hole. She requested water. They sent in a basket and a neck brace.

"We all made a chain. She was breathing. Her hand was moving. We said, 'We're going to get you out of here.' She just looked at us. It makes it all worthwhile for the one."

What at first seemed to be one firefighter turned out to be a group of them, all apparently dead. The rescuers were forced to leave the men buried, fearing a further collapse that would endanger more lives.

Late in the afternoon, a five-story pile of rubble, a jagged spire of steel and concrete, toppled in on itself. No one was hurt, but hundreds of rescue workers fled for cover.

As a stunned nation reeled with televised images of death and destruction and an almost wartime fervor against a faceless enemy gripped many Americans, President Bush, who had placed American military forces on alert around the world, called the attacks "acts of war," and vowed to hunt down and punish those responsible in a "monumental struggle of good versus evil."

On Capitol Hill, the House and Senate passed a joint resolution expressing unanimous support for the President and for government efforts to track down the terrorists. It also spoke of a nation united in efforts to recover and rebuild. But the new agenda in Washington was sure to include debate over the effectiveness of American intelligence and airport security in a nation that had been taken by surprise in a precisely planned attack.

Around the world, America's allies and even many nominal foes voiced revulsion at the attack, and condolences for families of the casualties. North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Iran, which have been accused by the United States of abetting terrorism, joined the condemnations.

The 19 nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in a powerful message of solidarity, unanimously invoked its collective defense clause for the first time in the organization's 52-year history, pledging to regard the attack on America as an attack on all the treaty nations, which would support any retaliation if the attackers were identified.

In a telephone interview from Gaza yesterday, Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, voiced compassion for the attack victims and angrily rejected accounts that some Palestinians had rejoiced over the attack. Asked about television pictures of Palestinian celebrations, he insisted that "it was less than 10 children in East Jerusalem, and we punished them."

Other groups linked to attacks on Israelis -- including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- denied responsibility. But an Iraqi newspaper applauded the attack, calling it due punishment for America's crimes.

No one took immediate responsibility for the attack, but speculation focused on Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile living in Afghanistan who is blamed for the 1998 attacks on two American embassies in Africa. Afghanistan's Taliban rulers voiced skepticism that Mr. bin Laden was involved and issued a plea to be spared from attack, pointing to Afghanistan's poverty.

Investigators said the initial clues pointed toward Boston, Canada and Florida. They said that five Arab men had been identified as suspects and that a rented car thought to have been used by the suspects had been seized at Logan Airport in Boston, where the two hijacked jets that rammed the trade center towers had originated. The Boston Herald reported that the car contained flight training manuals.

In a pair of bags designated for American Airlines Flight 11, one of the hijacked jets, investigators found a copy of the Koran, a videotape on flying commercial jets and a fuel consumption calculator, The Boston Globe said. Federal investigators said that the suspects may have entered the United States from Canada. The Boston Herald quoted investigators as saying that two were brothers with passports from the United Arab Emirates and that one was a pilot.

Other investigators said that heavily armed teams of Federal agents detained three men for questioning and searched a room at a Westin Hotel in the Copley Plaza in Boston. The three, an official said, were being held as material witnesses after using a credit card believed to have been used to buy some of the hijackers' tickets.

Federal agents were also looking into known bin Laden supporters in Florida. They executed search warrants at four homes in Davie and an apartment in Coral Springs, near Fort Lauderdale, and searched businesses in Hollywood and a home in Sarasota County on the Gulf Coast. It was unclear if anyone was arrested.

Charlie Voss, a former employee at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Fla., said agents questioned him about two men who stayed with him during their flight training last year. He said they told him a car found at Logan had been registered to the two men, one he knew as Mohamed Atta and the other only as Marwan. He said the men took flight training on small planes at Venice Municipal Airport.

Most of the casualties were believed to be in the rubble of the trade center. Many of the 40,000 to 50,000 people who usually worked there had not yet arrived when the planes struck, and many managed to escape before the towers collapsed.

"The best estimate we can make, relying on the Port Authority and just about everybody else that has experience with this, is there will be a few thousand people left in each building," Mayor Giuliani said in an evening briefing.

He said that five people -- other officials put the number at six -- had been found alive and extricated from the rubble. He also cited reports that cell phone calls had been received from victims caught in pockets of rubble, and said that no effort would be spared to find them. He said 1,700 were known injured.

Fire officials said whole companies of firefighters were missing, along with each of the five elite rescue units that served the five boroughs, in the worst disaster in Fire Department history. Most were caught in the collapses after rushing in to rescue people.

Mr. Giuliani said that Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive officer of General Electric, had donated $10 million to a fund for the families of police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers who were killed.

Asked if the World Trade Center would be rebuilt, the mayor said, "There's no question we're going to rebuild. I can't say that we know the exact nature yet of how we're going to do that," but he added: "The skyline will be made whole again."

Gov. George E. Pataki said that search and rescue teams, firefighters and National Guard troops were being augmented by reinforcements from states and counties in the region and from Puerto Rico. "They're risking their lives to try to save their friends and their colleagues and the New Yorkers who are still trapped," he said.

Marsh & McLennan, a money management firm, said about 700 employees who worked in one tower were still missing. Keefe Bruyette & Woods, a securities company that advises banks on mergers, said half of its 170 workers had not been accounted for. Cantor Fitzgerald, a major player in the government bond market, said 730 employees were missing from the 1,000-member trade center work force.

The Port Authority, which owned the trade center and had offices there, said 200 members of its staff were missing, including 35 Port Authority police officers and commanders who were involved in the early rescue efforts. More than 150 Port Authority officers were part of the search and rescue operations.

The Port Authority, which operates many bridges and tunnels and the three major metropolitan airports, said the upper level of the George Washington Bridge and the Staten Island bridges were reopened in both directions, while the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels remained closed.

The airports remained in a virtual lockdown for most of the day, although last night they were ready to receive any of the diverted flights whose continuation had been authorized by federal authorities. Check-in counters were empty at the terminals. "It's like a ghost town," said Hugo Chavez, a ground crew member at La Guardia. "All we need is the tumbleweed blowing through."

No comments: